Testimony offered on BOF candidate

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

More than two dozen area residents participated in a House Special Committee on Fisheries confirmation hearing on the appointment of Brent G. Johnson to the Board of Fish on Thursday.

Johnson, of Clam Gulch, spoke before the committee, explaining his background in public service and his experience living and working as a commercial fisherman on the peninsula.

Originally from Seldovia, Johnson said he began set-netting at a young age, eventually going on to become a commercial fisherman.

He noted his service record in fisheries on the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association board of directors and the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association as a past president and board member.

Outside of fisheries, he has served on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission, is the president of the Kasilof Regional Historical Association and the president of the Kenai Peninsula Historical Association.

Johnson's potential appointment to the Board of Fish has raised some concerns from fishing related interest groups.

Johnson acknowledged that, saying, "I understand that my appointment has generated some various opinions."

The majority of public testimony provided on Johnson's appointment, both positive and negative, came via the Kenai Legislative Information Office.

Opponents of his appointment keyed in on his background in commercial fishing. Many argued that the seven-member Board of Fish already is stacked in favor of commercial fishing as it stands. Additionally, they noted that if confirmed, Johnson would replace Fairbanks resident Bonnie Williams, whose term expires June 30, leaving the Interior without representation.

Monte Roberts, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, encouraged legislators not to confirm Johnson's appointment.

He said he was opposed to Johnson serving on the fish board chiefly because of his history as an advocate for commercial fishing interests.

"You don't take the champion for a cause and ask them to be on the board and be impartial," Roberts said.

"I think the Legislature has the responsibility to look at the board and make sure different areas of the state are represented," he said, adding that he was concerned about the make up of the board.

Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, also opposed Johnson's appointment, saying he was concerned Johnson wouldn't represent sport anglers.

"I think you heard loud and clear today that the sport, personal-use and subsistence users across the state are not in support of this nomination, and don't feel like they can be represented fairly through his interests on the board," he said.

Not all groups are as critical of Johnson though.

Dwight Kramer, chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen's Coalition, said he supports Johnson's appointment.

"The Board of Fish process has not been very ethical in the past. We need more people on it that are ethical, and Brent Johnson would be a step in the right direction," Kramer said.

Kramer dismissed comments on Johnson not being able to represent the Interior.

"I think the comments about Fairbanks not being represented was a red herring to find another way to not confirm him by the sport fish industry," he said.

Drew Sparlin, president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, also threw his support behind Johnson.

He said Johnson was well versed in fishery issues.

"He probably would not be able to participate on Cook Inlet issues during the board process," Sparlin said, noting that Johnson's position as a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman could preclude him from inlet related decisions.

He saw no loss there, however, saying, "The opportunity to insert information and assist in making good biological decisions would certainly be something that Brent would be good for and he could do very well."

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com

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